Glacier Country Tourism to Host Town Hall

Destination Stewardship Strategy will assess the current state of regional tourism and plan for the future

By Skye Lucas
A crowd of hikers waits to cross a snow field along the trail to the Hidden Lake Overlook near Logan Pass. Beacon file photo

Flathead Valley residents can share their thoughts, concerns and ideas on regional tourism at a Tourism Town Hall on Nov. 4 at Cedar Creek Lodge in Columbia Falls. The event, which begins at 9 a.m., will be the first of many hosted by Glacier Country Tourism.

The agency’s initiative, Destination Stewardship Strategy, will offer residents in the eight-county area of the western Montana tourism region the opportunity to learn more about a proposed 10-year plan and provide input.

The plan aims to create a strategic vision for Glacier Country’s visitor economy to ensure its sustainable while preserving the quality of life and quality of place for residents.

Consultants hired by Glacier Country will lead the town hall. Meanwhile, Jim McCaul of MMGY NextFactor and Cathy Ritter of Better Destinations have been engaging with 75 communities contained within the boundaries of the tourism region through interviews, focus groups and electronic surveys for residents and industry stakeholders. The results are expected to be revealed in the spring of 2022.

To guide developments throughout the process, Glacier Country created a steering committee of 15 members, including Dylan Boyle of Explore Whitefish, Riley Polumbus of Logan Health and previously Whitefish Mountain Resort, and Aubrie Lorona of Swan Mountain Outfitters.

The collaborative partnership between the tourism arm and key community sectors is part of an ongoing shift away from destination marketing and instead aims to manage aging infrastructure, overcrowding and impacts to local lifestyle.

The Destination Stewardship Strategy will be developed with input from representatives from key industries, including agriculture and small businesses, and from all area residents.

Glacier Country President and CEO Racene Friede says the organization shifted its focus near the beginning of the pandemic, when housing affordability and workforce shortages placed pressure on western communities due to the influx of Americans seeking wide-open spaces in Montana.

“It was a huge shift that the pandemic kick started,” Friede said. “Since 1987 we’ve been marketing the state as a travel destination, but now we want to work with local entities to create an industry that benefits everyone moving forward.”

The 1987 state mandated Lodging Facility Sales and Use Tax (4%), commonly referred to as the “Bed Tax,” raises money for the Department of Commerce to spend on tourism promotion. However, Glacier Country is among the first tourism organizations in the U.S. to dedicate resources for a Destination Stewardship Plan.

“We’re very excited about this new approach,” Friede said. “We’re not doing this just for the tourists. Our ultimate customer is the resident of Montana.”

Attendees are encouraged to register online. For more information and to register, visit glaciermt.com.

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